If you read the Goosebumps books between the ages of 7 and 8, they probably scarred the pants off you. If you read any of them when you were 9 or older, they probably made you laugh your pants off. Age aside, these books always encompassed a good mix of the scary and the silly. Every 90’s kid likely remembers at least one episode of the TV anthology series, which was more kid-friendly than Tales from the Crypt and more whimsical than Are You Afraid of the Dark? Rob Letterman’s live-action/computer-animated Goosebumps movie recaptures much of the show’s appeal with some modern twists.
This isn’t an adaptation of just one Goosebumps story, but a love letter to the entire franchise. The film follows Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette), who moves to a small town with his single mother (Amy Ryan). His new neighbor is the mysterious Mr. Shivers, played by Jack Black. He has a cooped up daughter named Hannah (Odeya Rush), who immediately hits it off with Zach. When it looks like Hannah’s father is abusing her, Zach sneaks into their spooky house to get some answers.
Zach soon learns that Mr. Shivers is actually R.L. Stein, author of the Goosebumps books. It turns out that all the monsters Stein created have found a way to literally leap off the pages. When his original Goosebumps manuscripts are unlocked, the town becomes overrun with homicidal werewolves, mummies, and garden gnomes. It’s up to Zach and his friends to wrangle up the creatures that go bump in the night before they scare up a storm.
The young actors all have great presence here, taking their roles seriously while never taking them TOO seriously. Ryan Lee is particularly hilarious as Champ, Zach’s self-proclaimed best friend with the biggest teeth you’ve ever seen. We also get some fun supporting performances from Jillian Bell as Zach’s hopeless romantic aunt in addition to Timothy Simmons and Amanda Lund as a couple bumbling cops. Black meanwhile gives a fun comedic performance as Stein, finding just the right balance of being over-the-top and deadpan. Of course he’s much more charismatic than the real R.L. Stein, who makes a clever cameo.
Many of the classic Goosebumps characters, like the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena and the Invisible Boy, naturally make appearances too. While it’s cool to see all these creatures together, most of them simply come and go. The only one who’s really given a chance to shine is Slappy the Dummy, also voiced by Black, who acts as a ringleader of sorts. The pacing is the main problem with this Goosebumps movie. It’s got strong ideas, characters, setups, humor, and twists, but the overall narrative is a little too rushed for these elements to fully materialize.
If Goosebumps left just a little more room to breath, this could’ve been one of the great family Halloween movies like Monster House, Coraline, or ParaNorman. As is, however, this is still a frightfully delightful good time that’ll appease the kid in us all. The film comes from Sony Pictures Animation, the same production company that brought us those two awful Smurfs movies. Fortunately, this is a much better update of a nostalgic series. Whether you’re an older fan or a new fan, Goosebumps knows what it’s supposed to be and gives its target audience what they want.